Set up by two brothers from Manchester, Kurtis Paul crafts fine luggage with a purpose. We had a chat with Lloyd Rayner, the brand’s co-creator, about starting their own business, bonding humanity through fashion and remaining a gentleman amidst the modern times.
Can you tell us a little bit about Kurtis Paul?
Representing the modern gentleman, Kurtis Paul is a luxury British fashion brand specialising in high quality luggage and accessories.
The brand was established in 2015 by two brothers from Manchester who felt the frustrations of the current luggage market. Being avid travellers we had tried and tested a wide spectrum of the market and found there were generally two classes; the high street where low quality had almost become accepted and the designer brands where most of the costs were nested in the brand name and not necessarily the product. Kurtis Paul challenges this, it is our driving force to create beautiful products at a reasonable price without a compromise on quality. As an example, our recent Canvas Collection is crafted from a super thick 20oz canvas fabric. The market generally uses a fabric between 13-18oz. We chose this material to ensure the collection has a durable longevity and has a built quality we are happy to put our names to.
You’ve set up Kurtis Paul together with your brother. Has it been an easier journey knowing you are running your business with someone you’re so close to?
People are the most important part of any company. It is people who creates cultures, voice your brand and ensure your customers understand why you exist. We have found that being brothers has helped us leverage this effectively. Our family is a very tight knit and in many ways Kurtis and I have been through the same struggles as each other, we have had the same upbringing and experiences. This similarity has defined our way of thinking and given us the same core values. This certainly helps when decisions need to be made. That said, being so close means we also know how to push each other’s buttons and we certainly know how to wind each other up when we are in a mischievous mood, usually a Friday afternoon…
How are the responsibilities distributed between yourself and Kurtis?
Kurtis and I have very different skill sets and we align responsibility to maximise our strengths. Day to day Kurtis manages our social platforms, models and photography whilst I focus on PR and the web platform. Design is overseen as a joint responsibility and all decisions are agreed jointly. Kurtis and I have a clear sense why Kurtis Paul exists and have created a detailed customer profile. This profile is referred to as ‘The Modern Gentleman’ and is the force behind most of the decisions we make. Any choices are ran through this profile and we constantly challenge ourselves as to whether we are working to the direction of Kurtis Paul and how they would be perceived by ‘The Modern Gentleman’. We find a clear definition of ‘why’ which ensures we can work autonomously but with a satisfaction that we are working to the same goal.
What has been the most challenging aspect of kicking things off with the brand?
The most challenging aspect of starting a brand is ensuring you stay true to yourself. I found that there was so much ‘noise’ in the industry that it can sometimes be hard to define a clear path, no fashion brand wants to be absorbed into this noise and you have to be strict with your values to ensure you find your position. To your earlier question of starting a company with family, I think this is one of the major benefits of that. There have been times when Kurtis or I have swayed off track, having someone to pull you back on course has been a major win for us.
You’ve taken a very bold step by donating your 5 months’ profits to charity causes. What was your personal motivation behind the decision?
Travel has always been a massive passion of ours and we have been privileged to see many beautiful parts of the world. Where possible we have stayed away from the ‘tourist route’ and experienced a country for how it really is. A couple of years ago I took a backpacking trip across Kenya and Tanzania with Nairobi’s Kibera as one of my stops. The Kibera is the largest slum in Africa and thought to be home to 1.2 million people. I saw people living in sub human conditions, malnourished and surrounded by dirt and disease. The things I witnessed during this trip have defined me ever since. I have been looking for opportunities to help and the first chance came with the induction of Kurtis Paul. Kurtis Paul has a strong belief that helping those in need is a part of what bonds humanity together and we like to ensure we play our part in this.
Tell us a bit about your personal background: how did your experiences feed into the idea of setting up your own brand?
Kurtis Paul is very much the result of our previous experiences. Kurtis and I both came from the corporate world and whilst we are naturally creative people we felt like we were being suppressed and in some ways moulded into a stereotype that didn’t fit. It was this frustration that made us dream of something bigger. Entering the fashion world was the result of a few key passions. Kurtis has always been big on his fashion, verging on obsessed at times and has always dreamt of making his mark. For me I am driven by creativity and continuous improvement. Through our years travelling and working away we had both seen an opportunity within the luggage market to do things better. It felt like the perfect answer to all our questions and fit with everything we stood for.
You often describe Kurtis Paul’s ideal customer as “the modern gentleman”. Can you explain who that is?
The Kurtis Paul team has a customer persona which they live by. We refer to this demographic as ‘The Modern Gentleman’. As an overview the modern gentleman is the man we think of when designing our products. This man is someone who holds themselves in high regards and has a determination to become the best version of himself. He is motivated and committed to living life to the fullest. He understands that the future is fully within his control and spends much of his down time on self-development. The modern gentleman enjoys the beauty the world has to offer and takes great satisfaction in experiencing different cultures, he believes that it is our individuality that makes us who we are and by understanding cultural variance he can better understand his peers. The modern gentleman takes pride in the way he presents himself, always wanting to be on form he ensures his fitness is maintained. He has a very busy schedule and knows that a healthy body is required to keep his energy levels at their optimum.
Your models seem to be very diverse. How do you cast your ambassadors? Is their personality as important to you as their look?
This goes back to the demographic ‘The Modern Gentleman’; whilst we have a clear definition of this man and his behaviour, we place no restriction around his physical looks, age or ethnicity. As such we ensure our brand ambassadors are diverse, we care more about the person and whether they fit within our gentleman persona than whether they are within a particular age range.
There’s now a certain shift towards environmentalism happening in the fashion world. Do you see Kurtis Paul adapting to the change in the future?
Of course, our planet is a fragile place and we must all do our best to ensure it is protected. Kurtis Paul is certainly an advocate for protecting it. The main challenge we get is around our use of leather as a material. I agree with these challenges and the desire to lessen our environmental impact was one of the driving forces behind our recently released Canvas Collection. We have also made recent changes to our internal processes so we keep our stock of leather to a minimum. I expect changes such as these will continue in the future as the demands of our customer base changes.
What are your grand plans for the brand in the future?
The future for Kurtis Paul is easy to define, we intend on shaping the world of fashionable luggage. Crafting beautiful products with purpose and using only the best materials. For those who see themselves as ‘The Modern Gentleman’ we hope you join our movement.
Check out Kurtis Paul’s website and let us know your thoughts about the brand in the comment section below!
Interviewed by: Maria Zatopi
Images: Lloyd’s archives